Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Under Water

I've been a bad blogger lately. The problem is that all my classes have converged on me at once! I am still working full time, but I am also taking twelve college credits as well. This week I had two research papers to write, four plans to compile, one scaffold to hammer out, and four read-and-reflect pieces to work through. In short, life is veeery busy, but at least I'm down to the home stretch. By the end of April I will (hopefully) be done with the %*&#@* Pro. Cert. and life (and blogging) should return to normal. Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Here is a series I took of tulips. I like these pictures because they show the flowers (which I like) and the sunshine (which I really like). These flowers were also quite satisfying because we bought them as tightly closed buds, and then watched them open in only about twelve hours. Steerpike decided to pose as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I don't want to make anyone jealous, but I am currently on vacation. It is Mid-Winter Break for most schools in Washington State. That massive "WEEEEEEEEE!" sound you heard last Friday was all the school children (and perhaps their teachers?) getting out of school for a week. I've spent my time off relaxing, doing all those little things I never quite get to, doing homework for my Pro. Cert. classes, and also relaxing. The best bit is, of course, the sleeping in and NOT getting up in the "wee sma's." The next best bit is all the quiet. It turns out that Mark and the kitties are not nearly as noisy as 900 teenagers.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Three Ways of Thought

Every year around this time we study ancient China in my social studies classes. We read about early emperors, see a video about the terra cotta soldiers, create a timeline of ancient dynasties and so on. I always try for a mix of different strategies to teach this stuff because no two kids learn in exactly the same way. However, most students agree that the best part of the unit is the simulations. Some of the early dynasties experimented with different forms of rule, so we take the kids through an activity designed to give them a feel for life under three of the systems.

The first system is the philosophy of Confucius. Because Confucius taught that younger people must respect and learn from their elders, we have the five eldest kids in class become the leaders. They get to sit ON TOP of the desks, and they get to tell all the students in their small group what to do. However, they are also responsible for the behavior and success of their "younger brothers and sisters." We talk about the power of honor and shame, and how a person's life could be ruined through loss of "face." They study the teachings of Confucius in their small groups, and then answer questions from me, the emperor. We leave out the part about men being thought superior to women until the end.

The second system is legalism. In this system I get to be the extreme heavy if you know what I mean. This is a system based on the idea that people are inherently bad, and the only way to have peace in society is through strict rules and serious consequences. All the students have to sit up in their desks, hands behind their backs, and pay strict attention to the lesson. They are not allowed to speak, look up, or move without permission. The smallest transgression leads to punishment. The best bit is wandering the rows and smacking a yardstick onto the desks of people who are "bad." Even though they know it is fake, some students still show signs of stress after a few minutes of my shouting and smacking desks. If a student is really bad I make them sit on the floor, or even kneel in front of the class. This year I added the punishment of standing in front of the room while holding a sign that says "I am a bad student." They must study the readings on legalism, and try to avoid getting punished. Each time a student is punished they get a check mark next to their name on the board. At the end I assign fake punishments to those with the most checks. Beheading is one of my favorites. The really odd part is that they absolutely love this lesson. They ask again and again if we can have another day like that one. I have no idea why they like it so much, but I'm just glad they don't complain to their mothers.

The third way of thought is Taoism. This lesson is such a great contrast to the previous day because it takes a totally different view of the world. Taoist philosophy says that people are naturally good, and the best way to govern them is to leave them alone as much as possible. Thus we clear the classroom and kids are allowed to choose their own seats on the floor as long as their seating choice "promotes harmony and not discord." We then talk about how the real struggle most people have is in their own mind, and how Taoists wanted to find inner peace more than anything. I place a potted plant in the middle the circle, and we all marvel at how it desires nothing and seeks only to be. Of course the kids are all snickering and trying to make fun of the whole thing, so I've developed a special strategy that avoids punishment, but still quiets them down. I talk about how some people are made uncomfortable by their own feelings, and these are the people who seek to act out as a way to cover up their won discomfort. They start to understand that if you are being a problem you are admitting that you can't cope. Finally, we do a little transcendental meditation where they all visualize a pond, imagine it experiencing a terrible storm, and then imagine calming the storm. This is a metaphor for all the problems that trouble our minds. Most kids think it is silly nonsense, but every single year there are a few who think it's a revelation.

In the end, we discuss how each of the three ways might have been used to rule a country. we also compare how these ideas might appear in the modern world, or how they might be applied to solve modern problems. More than one kid has come back to me years later and said that they remember these lessons better than any others. I love simulations!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Flower Geeks

Last weekend Mark and I went to the annual Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. We've never been to this event before, but since we got free tickets in the mail, we decided to give it a try. What we found was an entire world unto itself. It turns out that there are quite a number of hardcore flower geeks out there. Now many people might think this is obvious. There are millions of people out there who enjoy gardening, and who spend every weekend planting, mulching, weeding, or feeding. These people may have grubby pants and fingernails, but their yards are often spectacular. Some, or even many, of these people were at the garden show, but there was another kind there as well.

These are the people who don't just like flowers, they are obsessed with them. These are the people who say things like "I'm SO tired of zonal!” while looking at the geranium stand. These are the people who come, not just to get something unusual like a pitcher plant, but to get a certain variety of pitcher plant. These are the kind of people who actually get married in a garden display! I am not making this up. While we were there they were actually holding a real wedding in one of the big, room-sized displays. I cannot imagine what causes a person to choose a garden show for their wedding. Perhaps they met at the garden show? Perhaps they were paid to add authenticity? Perhaps they just love that convention center ambiance so much that it was the only choice? I really don't know.

Anyway, we had a pretty good time on the whole. Mark bought me a gold cast of a gingko leaf done as a coat pin. Of course, it was not actually alive, but at least it was still plant-related. I did not get to buy as many plants as I'd hoped because it turns out that what I wanted was way too mundane for this crowd. We did pick up a cute little sprout of dark red clematis and some very nice dahlia tubers, but I think I will have to just go to a regular nursery if I want lilacs, columbines, primroses, and other "boring" plants.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day (schmaltz warning)

It know it's not very new or original, but E.B. Browning just said it so well:

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to useIn my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to loseWith my lost saints.
I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life;
and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.

I hope Valentine's finds you happy--- whether you have romance or not. Remember that there are a million different kinds of love in the world, and it is okay not to have them all at once. All MY love to the family and friends who are scattered near and far.

P.S. February 14th was also my Grandpa John's birthday. All who knew him would have to agree that he was the best of men and the best of grandpas. Here's to him.

Fish Update

Well folks, I know you've been on the edge of your seat wanting to know how the goldfish is doing. I am proud, and more than a little surprised, to say that he continues to survive, and even seems to be mending nicely. We added some stress coat (Aloe Vera gel for fish) to the water, and it seems to be doing a good job of smoothing his raggedy edges. His poor tail is still in ribbons from the loss of blood, but I do believe he will eventually recover entirely.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I Think NOT!

It is time that I confessed the embarrassing truth: I am passionately fond of the band Queen. Well, to tell the truth, I was passionately fond of the music as a teenager, so much so, that I sort of exhausted it before I graduated from college. I listened to the band while doing my homework, driving in the car (I learned to drive to "I'm Going Slightly Mad") and just about everywhere else. I even read the official band biography, and learned the truth about Brian May's Red Special guitar (he and his dad made it out of an old mahogany mantle piece). Even now I still pop in the greatest hits CD sometimes when I need a pick-me-up. Therefore you might think that I would be all excited about the news that the band will be touring the United States in 2006, and they plan a show at our own Key Arena! The only small problem here, the only fly in the ointment if you will, is that FREDDY IS STILL DEAD! The remaining members of the band actually believe that they can simply swap in just any old singer and themselves Queen. As if ANYONE could replace the great toothy one. I have absolutely no problem with three former members of queen meeting up with a new guy and touring together, but they should not take the name of the original band in vain. The really sad part is that they will do it, and they will sell tickets too. People will actually go "oh well, I guess it'll be pretty much the same thing" or worse yet, THEY WON'T EVEN REALIZE THAT THEY'VE BEEN DUPED! To borrow from George Harrison--- There can be no Queen reunion as long as Freddy remains dead.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Flying Fish

Yesterday I got up at my usual ungodly time. As always I dragged myself out of bed in the dark, hobbled over to the bathroom, dressed, washed, combed etc. By the time I finish with all this I am beginning to wake up, but I'm still pretty bleary-eyed. Imagine my surprise then, at coming down into the kitchen and finding a fish on the floor. My poor, sleepy brain actually had trouble registering the fact that it was a fish because fish really are not part of the usual landscape for our kitchen floor. Once I registered the fact of the fish I noticed that this was actually a fish I knew, and that it belonged across the room in the fish tank. At first I thought the poor thing was dead because it was clearly dried out, it did not move at all, and it was covered in dust bunnies (okay, yes, we have one or two small dust bunnies in our house). I was just think "oh no! Poor Fishy! We hardly knew ye!" When the fish went !GULP! in a big way. I ran around frantically finding a bowl, scooping water from the fish tank, and trying desperately not to squash the poor little guy while putting him in the bowl. He didn't move at all. In fact, he sank to the bottom of the bowl and sat there without moving a muscle. I started to think I had imagined the gulp, and that I'd just plunked a leathery, dead fish into a bowl of water. By the time I had to go, he was still not looking good, and I really thought there wasn't much hope.

However, by the time Mark got up, the fish was swimming slowly around the bowl. Mark returned the fish to the tank and poured out the bowl of dust bunnies and slime (when fish get dried out they lose their protective gel coat). Long story short (too late for that you're probably thinking!) the fish survived his near air-drowning. He is a little the worse for wear from his experience. Without much gel coat, he looks very rough and it is hard for him to glide through the water as he should. His tail and one fin are ragged and shredded because they were deprived of blood for too long. Over all, though, he is alive and he will eventually recover. This weekend we will definitely have to go to the pet store and buy a cover for our fish tank. I just don't think I can take any piscine rescue missions so early in the morning.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

But I'm Not Bitter or Anything

Teaching is one of the few professions where you are guilty until proven innocent again and again and again. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot simply jump through the hoops of getting certified and then be done. No, in fact, the job of certification is never truly over for those of us under the age of about forty. For those of us who became teachers in the last seven years, the job is especially arduous. Even though we have passed all the criminal checks, psychological profiles, course work, internships, student teaching, and provisional teaching, we are still considered "suspect" by the state. Thus, we must participate in Professional Certification courses or lose our right to teach. The courses are a series of classes that are supposed to help make us better teachers by identifying our "deficiencies" and assigning courses to "correct" them. I know, this sounds like a probation plan for people who can't cut the mustard, but no, they require it for everybody. I am nearing the end of this insulting, expensive charade and I cannot wait for it to be over. Last night was the first class of my final course. For three hours (after a full workday by the way) we sit and listen to the lady read our handouts out loud to us. We then go away and collect some important "evidence" about our school (such as the number of kids we have) and present that to our peers in the class. Perhaps this is meant to improve our patience with trivial things, but otherwise I can't see any real benefit to our skills as a teacher.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hooray for Losers

For the sake of the kids and other fans I know I should be sad that the Seahawks lost. They certainly do care a great deal about their team. Yesterday, during the game, we stood outside our house and listened to the houses around us. Normally, our neighborhood is a very quiet place, but yesterday there were perfectly choreographed bouts of screaming. It would so quiet you could hear the breeze blow, and suddenly, bloody murder on all sides. Then, like a window closing, the sound would stop. A few minutes later there would be yelling again. We could not tell a significant difference between joyous and despairing, but they were definitely loud.

Nevertheless, I'm still happy they lost. I can't help being more than a little disgusted at the emphasis placed on sports, and professional sports doubly so. I know people need entertainment, and I can understand the joy of being a part of a movement, but I think it just goes too far. Leaving the huge amounts of wasted money out of it (that's a whole other post) I think football is dangerous on an emotional level as well. The fact that domestic violence spikes on game days says something about the intensity of feeling involved. Does watching violence cause violence? Who knows. However, a culture that encourages rabid behavior (the Pittsburgh police were moving through the city in riot formation) over such a meaningless subject certainly has problems with priorities.

Hooray, then, for the losers! May they lose again and again. May football culture wither and die here, and may we be spared the expense, on all levels, of football fanaticism. A girl can dream can’t she?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Wind Storm

It was definitely "a blustery day Pooh" as Christopher Robin would say. We actually had a high wind warning from the National Weather Service for all of Saturday, and I think it was richly deserved. We could hear the wind blowing throughout the night, and then when we got up this morning we noticed that the power had been out for a few hours. All morning the trees were whipping back and forth, and the road was littered with downed branches. Luckily, our house seems to be safe and snug. Finally, around noon, the power went out again. When you lose power in our area, the stoplights simply stop working. No flashing red, and no warning that something is wrong. As a result people don't quite seem to know how to behave. We saw more than one person just blow through a light without even seeming to notice.

When I lived in the countryside the power would go out all the time, and sometimes it would stay off for a day, or two days, or even more. However, it was kind of a different story because we were not so helpless as we are here. Our house had a woodstove for cooking and heating, and we always had big supplies of firewood, food, and water. More than anything, losing power just didn't seem to bother people the way it does here. Still, nothing can ever make cold, dark showers anything other than awful. Luckily, the whole thing only lasted about five hours, and we are able to warm and digital once again.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lip Sync Your Way to Happiness

I've been working like a demon all week trying to keep my ducks in a row. However, they just keep flapping around and quacking, and more seem to show up all the time. Sometimes I feel tired, nibbled, and covered in feathers! Perhaps that is why the mood at school today is so welcome.

First of all, most of the kids are in ecstasy over football. The Super bowl is not remotely special or important to me, but I love it that they love it. The student activities advisor ran a contest this morning for the class with the most "spirit" (he went around counting the number of kids in blue and green) and the outfits were very impressive. One kid sprayed his hair green and blue, wore a jersey, and wore a cape made from a Seahawk blanket. He was beaming ALL day.

Second, we had the lip sync assembly today. Now I know this is not the most common type of assembly for a middle school to have, but it has certainly become tradition around here. I believe the whole thing started years ago (I can still say that without involving myself!) when they had try-outs for the talent show. It seems that they had so many lip sync acts that they decided to ban them from the talent show, and have a separate assembly for them instead. Now our talent shows mostly consist of dance and classical music, and we have the lip synch assembly too. This year we had some hilarious performances of both modern music and a few "golden oldies."

To begin, we had a group of girls doing their best impression of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." They danced around in artfully torn white shirts and totally failed to look ghoulish. One of my boys honestly wanted to know if that was a song they played when I was in high school (No! I was only about seven when it came out!). We all laughed at the boys who did an enthusiastic performance of "Yellow Submarine" and we cheered when two girls did a wonderful version of "supercallafragelistic." In short, it was great fun, and not so long that your bottom fell asleep on the bleachers. The kids are so buoyant; you can't help but feel good along with them. Days like these remind me why I love being a teacher. Now, if you happen to see any of my ducks, please let me know...